Unquiet Days: At Home in Poland - Thomas Swick

On 13 December 1981 General Jaruzelski, Prime Minister of Poland and head of the Polish communist party, appeared on Polish television and declared that a state of war existed. During the night the headquarters of Solidarity, the independent trade union, had been occupied by soldiers. Several thousand people, including most of Solidaritys' leaders were arrested and interned. Soviet built tanks occupied Warsaw taking control of the bridges across the river Vistula and the major roads in the city. Soldiers patrolled the streets carrying machine guns. All demonstrations and strikes were banned. Poland was now under martial law.

Martial Law

Thomas Swick, an American, woke up in Warsaw on the morning of the 13 December to discover that his telephone was now dead. He went outside and found posters being put up on his apartment building. They listed all those things which were now forbidden:

  • strikes
  • public meetings
  • sporting events
  • entertainments

On television communiqués were read by men in military uniforms. A curfew was imposed from 10pm until 6am. The next day he took a tram to the English language school where he worked teaching English to Polish students. He found the classes had been cancelled. On the following day he walked down Nowy Swiat in the direction of the Old Town. At the Academy of Sciences building he found military vehicles and ZOMO (Police Militia) troops.

It was bitterly, painfully cold. We saw some students or young professors being led out into a wagon that appeared already full...There was growing anger among the crowd...Chants of "Ge-sta-po! Ge-sta-po!" rose and fell, as did verses of the national anthem...New reserves of police cars...they were pelted with snowballs and insults. Then I saw one of my students...pulled from the building and deposited into a waiting wagon...ZOMO reserves, four or five in a row moved toward the the restless crowd with nightsticks...I stood near some elderly women, their eyes wet with tears. "It's like the [German] occupation again. (p. 144)

Warsaw - Saw War

Thomas Swick notes that if you reverse the parts of the name of Warsaw you get Saw War.

Middle of the 17th Century
Swedish forces invade Poland bringing great destruction to Warsaw. The Royal Castle and much of the city had to be rebuilt.
1794
An insurrection against the Russians was launched by Tadeusz Kosciuszko. Thousands of Warsaw citizens were killed. Poland was partitioned between Germany, Austria and Russia.
November 1830
An insurrection against the Russians which led to a Polish defeat almost a year later.
World War 1 1914-18
450,000 Polish soldiers were killed. From the ashes of this war Poland regained her independence on 11 November 1918.
World War 2 1939-45
Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union invaded and divided Poland between them. Six million Poles died, 50% were of Jewish origin, 700,000 were citizens of Warsaw.

All Souls Day

Each year on the 1st November All Souls Day Poland remembers her dead. In Warsaw people visit the cemeteries, in particular Powazki, the city's largest.

The first year I was surprised to see the crowds...The flower pedlars did a good job in memorial wreaths, chrysanthemums (because they support the cold) and candles...At dusk we would head to the nearby military cemetery...Rows of cupped candles stretched far into the distance...We found the makeshift monument to Katyn (the site of a massacre of Polish Officers by the Russians during World War 2), its white and blood red banner tied between trees. (p. 27)

The Military Cemetery had a number of special sections containing the graves of the:

  • Insurgents of the 1863 Uprising
  • Soldiers and POWs of World War 1
  • Defenders of Warsaw in 1939
  • Soldiers of the Home Army

At the graves of the soldiers of the Home Army:

...stood tall ordered rows of simple crosses made, fittingly from the felled trunks of young birch trees. Before the graves gathered a silent, meditative populace, the faces, some tearful, illuminated by the candle glow. (p. 27)

Pligrimage to Jasna Góra

The monastery of Jasna Gora at Czestochowa is the most important Catholic shrine to the Virgin Mary in Poland. The monastery was founded in 1382 by Pauline monks and withstood a 40 day siege by the Swedes in 1655.  It is a place of pilgrimage. The object of veneration is a painting of the Black Madonna which depicts the Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus.

In August 1982 Thomas Swick embarked on the pligrimage walk from Warsaw. That year marked the 600th anniversary of the Black Madonna's arrival in Poland.

During the Gdansk shipyard strikes in 1980, Lech Walesa took on as one of his duties the passing around of votive cards of the Black Madonna. Regarding the pin of her which became inseparable from his lapel, he [said]..."She protects me"...During martial law young Poles replaced the outlawed Solidarity pins on their own lapels with pins of the Black Madonna set against a background of the Polish flag. (p.184-185)

Thomas Swick set off on his walk of 245 kilometers from St. Annes's Church in Warsaw. Before leaving he read the guidelines for the march.

The aim of the pilgrimage is an internal transformation and a personal meeting of the pilgrim with God. We want to thank Mary for her care over Poland and to assist Pope John Paul II through our prayers.

The marchers carried three flags with them:

  • Red and white flag of Poland
  • Yellow and white Papal flag
  • Blue and white flag of Mary

On arrival in Czestochowa they walked up the Avenue of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary which runs through the center of the town. The citizens lined the entire route to greet their arrival. On the church wall could be seen an enormous banner saying: The Queen of Jasna Gora - Be always with us. The pilgrims pushed through a series of arched gateways and eventually made their way into the chapel. They knelt briefly before the Black Madonna in individual prayer before moving on.

A special service was held in the chapel in the middle of the night for the group of pilgrims from Warsaw.

At the end of the service...arms [were] raised purposely in V's, and sang the occupation version of "Boze Cos Polske", which ends, "God return our free country to us". (p. 255)

Unquiet Days - At Home in Poland

Author - Thomas Swick
ISBN - 0395585635
Publisher - Published in 1991 by Ticknor & Fields, USA.
Book Availability - Amazon (UK) - Amazon (US) - Bookfinder

Thomas Swick spent two years in Poland from September 1980 until September 1982. He taught English to Polish students, travelled and wrote articles about Poland. He had met a Polish women called Hania in London in 1976. She was working  during the summer to raise money to support her studies at the University of Warsaw. They were married in Warsaw's Old Town in October 1980.

He left Poland, in September 1982, on the ship the Stefan Batory sailing from Gdansk to the United States. His wife Hania would join him in America a few months later.

Thomas Swick has a website at www.thomasswick.com

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This page was added on 18 July 2010.